Dragon by Dragon – August 1981 (52)

With the 2nd edition of Blood & Treasure essentially done (well, almost done), I can get back on track with these Dragon reviews. Number 52 is from August of 1981, and features a Boris Vallejo cover of a butterfly-winged dragon and beautiful naked woman … which of course is a rarity for a Boris painting. Boris gets a little full article inside the magazine as well.

So – I’ve got Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the television and a gin gimlet in my belly, and I’m ready to show off the bits and pieces that I found useful and/or inspirational in #52 …

First and foremost, a nice piece of comic/advertising work by Bill Willingham, one of my favorites from the olden days.

 

This involves the adventurers Auric, Tirra and the wizard Khellek (who does not appear to be this guy – scroll down a bit). Auric is an ill-armored fighter, Tirra could be a thief or fighter and Khellek is a wizard. They tangle briefly with a jackalwere and then … to be continued.

The first real article is dedicated to the much maligned cleric class. “The Role of the Cleric – Warriors with Wisdom” is by Robert Plamondon, and it does a nice job of explaining the class, some of its inspirations and ways to play it well. If the image below, by Jim Holloway, doesn’t make you want to play the class, I don’t know what will …

 

The article has a few nice bits that might stir the creative juices of players and GM’s out there, such as a list of acts of worship, in order of potency:

1. Thinking religious thoughts.
2. Formal prayer.
3. Attending rites or church services.
4. Feasts, festivals, fasts, self-punishment, vigils- as part of religious rites.
5. Sacrifice of valuables.
6. Dying in a holy conflict.
7. Killing an enemy in a holy conflict.
8. Sacrifice of an unbeliever.
9. Sacrifice of an unwilling believer.
10. Sacrifice of a willing believer.

#10 seems like a dicey prospect for Lawful clerics.

Douglas Loss adds a bit more with his article “The Land is My Land …”, including this bit about clerics and swords, including this from The Song of Roland

Turpin of Rheims, finding himself o’erset,
With four sharp lance-heads stuck fast within his breast,
Quickly leaps up, brave lord, and stands erect.
He looks on Roland and runs to him and says
Only one word: “I am not beaten yet!
True man never failed while life was in him left!”
He draws Almace, his steel-bright brand keen-edged;
A thousand strokes he strikes into the press.
Soon Charles shall see he spared no foe he met,
For all about him he’ll find four hundred men,
Some wounded, some clean through the body cleft,
And some of them made shorter by a head.
— The Song of Roland, Laisse 155

So Turpin got to swing a sword, why doesn’t your cleric? Well, to start off with, Turpin also doesn’t get to cast spells or turn undead. Douglas thinks the rule should be thrown out, because its not “realistic” and because in AD&D the mace is as good as sword. I disagree – swords are more than just a damage range, but the “no sharp weapons” rule also takes many magic weapons out of a cleric’s hands, thus helping the old fighter stay relevant.

Douglas Loss is back with “The Sense of Sacrifices”, and this is a neat one about the chances of deities granting clerics spells they aren’t high enough in level to cast. It all hinges on sacrifices of inanimate objects (valuable or symbolic, of course), animals and sentient creatures of a wildly different alignment than the cleric. To boil it down – 2% per 100 gp value of inanimate objects, symbol items 5%, animals 2% (or 3% if it is favored by the deity) and 5% for sentient beings. The chance shouldn’t be higher than 50%, and each subsequent miracle should have a 5% penalty applied if the cleric tries this too often.

Sage Advice is cleric-centered as well. I enjoyed how this answer began:

Q: What happens when a Resurrection or a Raise Dead is cast on an undead?

A: Hmmm. It stands to reason …

In other words – crap, we hadn’t thought of that.

For lovers of the old school, the cleric stuff is followed by two articles concerning the new Basic D&D set. The first is written by J. Eric Holmes, author of the first edition, and the second by Tom Moldvay himself. Holmes has the longer article, and it explains the hows and whys of Basic D&D. Holmes fans have probably already read it, but if they haven’t, I would highly suggest it.

For modern gamers, Paul Montgomery Crabaugh’s “The Undercover Job Guide” can be useful … especially if they’re setting a game in 1981. Written for TOP SECRET, it covers a number of jobs and gives you some ideas on their access to travel and their salaries. Here are a couple of items:

Home Economics: travel potential moderate to high; starting salary $20,000/year (variable); almost no connection with what the field is normally thought of to include: agents in this field will very likely be chefs, or connected with the creation of fashion or decoration: female agents have a good chance of being models (salary quite variable).

Physical Education: travel potential high; starting salary quite variable; almost certainly an agent will be an athlete in this AOK: by preference, one in a sport played throughout much of the world. Tennis is an excellent choice; golf, soccer and track & field are also good.

Yeah, a pair of spies who work in a high school would be pretty fun.

This issue’s Giants in the Earth by Katharine Brahtin Kerr covers Prospero (Lawful Good 14th level magic-user), his pals Ariel (a neutral “high-grade” air elemental – I would have gone sylph, mostly because Ariel is a sylph) and Caliban the chaotic evil half-orc, and Circe (chaotic neutral 18th level magic-user). Here’s a nice bit …

The best way to get the upper hand over Circe is to possess the strange herb known as moly. The god Hermes gave Ulysses some of this herb, said to grow only in Olympus. With it, Ulysses mastered Circe’s magic and made her turn his crew back into men from swine. If the DM wants moly available in the campaign, it should either be fantastically expensive or else a gift to a cleric from his or her god.

If a character wears moly, all of Circe’s polymorph spells will fail against that character, and the power of her other spells against that character will be weakened considerably; the character should get a +2 on all saving throws against her magic. Circe cannot touch this herb to steal it away, nor can her maidservants.

For more information on moly, click HERE.

We also learn Circe’s spell list: 1st-charm person, comprehend languages, friends, read magic, sleep; 2nd-detect invisibility, ESP, forget, ray of enfeeblement, web; 3rd-fly, hold person, dispel magic, slow, suggestion; 4th-charm monster, confusion, fear, polymorph other, massmorph; 5th-animal growth, feeblemind, hold monster, passwall, transmute rock to mud; 6th-control weather, enchant an item, legend lore; 7th-charm plants, mass invisibility, vanish; 8th-mass charm, polymorph any object; 9th-imprisonment.

Dragon #52 also has a groovy little Gamma World adventure by Gary Jaquet called “Cavern of the Sub-Train”. This might sound like a subway romp in the ruins of New York, but it’s actually a romp through something more like Elon Musk’s hyperloop. This network spanned the entire North American continent.

The adventure is left open-ended, so should come in handy to folks playing post-apoc games.

Victor Selby and Ed Greenwood introduce the Rhaumbusun in Dragon’s Bestiary. Here’s a quick B&T-style statblock:

Rhaumbusun, Small Monster: HD 1+2; AC 13; ATK 1 bite (1d3); MV 20′; SV 16; Int Low; AL Neutral (N); NA 1d2; XP/CL 100/2; Special-Gaze attack (40′ range; paralyze for 3d4 turns)

Lewis Pulsipher has some interesting, peaceful gas-filled beasts called pelins. Not much for a fight, but they’re semi-intelligent, so maybe they could be helpful in completing a quest if the players are smart enough to be nice to them and attempt communication.

Michael Kluever gives a nice history of siege warfare in “Knock, Knock!”. Worth a read for people new to the subject.

Up next are three – count ’em three – takes on the bounty hunter class by Scott Bennie, Tom Armstrong, and Robert L Tussey and Kenneth Strunk. Lets judge them by the most relevant part of the class – the class titles!

The use of revenger, head hunter and manhunter are nice, but the inclusion of esquire by Armstrong wins the competition. Anything that can bring Bill & Ted into the conversation can only be good for a D&D game.

Hey – what the heck is this?

 

A Google search brings up a computer game designed for use with the Fantasy Trip. Pretty cool!

There are reviews of some cool miniatures from Ral Partha (hill giant, storm giant, cold drake), Heritage USA (hill giant and beholder and superheroes and supervillains), Castle Creations (condor and skull splitter giant), Penn-Hurst/Greenfield (a plastic castle), Citadel (ogre, giant spider) and Grenadier (the dragon’s lair), as well as Basic Role-Playing, TIMELAG and Dungeon Tiles.

Not a bad issue – more advice-centric than number-y, but you get bounty hunters and a paralyzing lizard, so what the hey!

I leave you as always with Tramp

Remember – never trust gamers discovered in the wild!!!

Player Motivation

I was recently thinking about the people I’ve played games with over the years, and what motivated them. I think a big part of being a successful Game Master is figuring out what gives players a thrill and then trying to find ways to work those things into your game.

Understand, I’m not talking about winning here. Most (if not all) players enjoy winning. Everyone can’t be a winner all the time. But consider war games, even such a venerable war game as chess. In a game of chess, one player wins and one player loses (unless there’s a draw), and yet people keep coming back to the game. Winning really isn’t everything.

The motivations I’m talking about are the situations that give people a charge while playing a game. Sitting behind my GM screen, I could see, as events unfolded, the way eyes would light up. Taking note, I tried, when it was possible, to present the situations people enjoyed in every session to give people a charge and leave them smiling at the end of the night, even when things didn’t go quite as planned.

Oh, and when you run into a player for whom winning is everything, don’t let them into your group. Nothing but heartache and headache will follow. Unless you actually are the parent of the player in question, it’s not your job to teach them how to be a good loser. Maturity matters.

Here are the player types I remember:

1) Combat Junkie – loves rolling dice. Loves a good challenge, whether it’s a big monster that has to be swarmed or a mass of minor monsters that have to be waded through, or some weird challenge they have to figure out. While it is true that players in the early version of the game often did their utmost to avoid combat and walk away with the treasure (more on that in a moment), many modern players come for the dice rolling, and put up with the exposition in between.

2) Ladder Climber – loves to level up, buy the better armor, build the stronghold, etc. They love success. This doesn’t mean they throw a fit when they don’t win, or their character loses a level or dies. That’s part of the game. But they really love moving up the ladder, getting the new skills and abilities, and generally showing progress.

3) Make Believer – love to play a roll. Maybe they’re wicked, maybe they’re motherly or fatherly, maybe their something else, but they like the chance to interact with fictional characters and help write the game along with you.

4) Problem Solver – loves to figure things out. Sometimes these are min-maxers, who place all their focus on bending the game rules to their will. Those guys are a pain in the ass. The best ones are the ones who enjoy solving problems that are in-game – puzzles, riddles, strategy, tactics, mysteries. They love the mental challenge that does not involve dice rolling.

The tricky part about running a game, of course, is balancing these different interests. It is possible that not everybody will love every game all the time – in fact, this is likely. But throwing people a bone in the midst of an adventure that doesn’t push their buttons is a good idea, and can make the game better for everyone else.

For example, we’ll take the good old fashioned dungeon crawl. Dungeon crawls have been so successful over the years because they tend to make #1, #2 and #4 happy. Plenty of monsters, so plenty of opportunities for combat. Plenty of XP and treasure, so the ladder climber is happy. Problem solvers get traps, tricks, etc. to keep them interested. However, the make believer doesn’t always get what they want in a dungeon crawl. What to do? Throw in the prisoner who was kidnapped by the monsters and needs help getting back to their home. Throw in the hesitant monster who wants to parlay (but can she be trusted). Give them some personalities with whom they can interact, and better yet – in whose life they can have an impact – and the rest of the dungeon crawling becomes more palatable.

Here are a couple ways to “throw players a bone” without breaking the game …

Pointless Fights – You don’t want to overdo this – and it’s very easy to overdo – but once in a while throw the combat junkie a melee party. Throw a mass of minor monsters into the game who probably will not score a TPK, but who give the junkie a chance to roll some dice. Think of this as the opening scene of an action movie, where the hero and his or her prowess is introduced by them beating the crap out of a bunch of pointless mooks. It doesn’t really forward the story, and since it’s the first scene you know the hero is in no danger, but it’s a bit of fun nonetheless. Again – don’t do this too often, and if you’re playing something other than an old school game where the combat can be played out with relative ease, think hard before you do it at all.

Story Arcs – A story arc that shows up as recurring characters or a situation that gradually gets dire and then gradually gets better by the players’ actions can help keep the ladder climbers (who need more power to face the greater evil), make believers (who can make a fictional difference and interact with the recurring characters) and problem solvers (who must unravel the villain’s master plan … even if there isn’t one*) happy, without too much extra work or time spent for the GM.

* Sometimes, the best master plan is actually created by the players. As they discuss what they think is happening, adopt their ideas, or roll randomly for who is right, and then from time to time throw in a curve ball. They think they’re figuring it out, when in reality they’re writing the script.

The players have some work to do as well. Much ink has been spilled over what the Game Master should do to keep players interested … but what about the players? Think about it – the Game Master has probably invested far more time, energy and money into the game than the players, and they outnumber him or her by four or five or six to one … but it’s the GM’s job to make the game successful? Doesn’t sound right, and it isn’t right.

What the players can do to help make a game a success is to recognize what their fellow players enjoy, and to indulge them their obsessions. In fact, try to get into those obsessions yourself. Player X likes role playing, Player Y likes rolling dice. Instead of rolling your eyes when the other player is getting what they like, try to find the fun in it yourself. Get outside the old comfort zone, fake it to make it, grow as a gamer – you never know what you’re missing until you try.

Just a few thoughts on playing the game … more crunchy stuff to come. The Monster book will be out tonight .It would be out already, but I can’t use rpgnow at work … I can’t imagine why? Oh well – time to write about real estate – see you all later!

Blood & Treasure Going Hard (Cover)

Hey boys and girls, I finally have the Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Rulebook up for sale as a hard cover book! The book runs $24.99, and as always if you buy the hard cover book and email me with your Lulu receipt and I’ll send you a link for the PDF.

My next steps are as follows:

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Monster book up for sale as a PDF (this week)

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Rulebook up for sale as a paperback (next week)

* Get NOD 30 up for sale as a PDF (next week)

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Monster book up for sale as a hard cover and paperback (two to three weeks from now)

* Get NOD 30 up for sale as a paperback (two to three weeks from now)

Then I get the chance to work on some mini-games and figure out how to do a B&T TK Screen!

And now, since you’ve suffered through the commercial, here are a couple spells to play with:

Footfalls (Divination)
Level: Cleric 1, Magic-User 2
Range: 300 feet
Duration: 1 round per level

This spell permits the caster to hear all movement on the ground within 300 feet, even if that ground is separated from the caster by thick walls, etc. The caster knows the general direction of the footfalls, the size of what is moving and the general number (single creature, small group, large group, etc.)

Wildfire (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-user 5
Range: 30 feet
Duration: See below

This spell turns a fire or portion of fire (campfire size minimum) into a swarm of tiny fire elementals who run wild and cause as much havoc as they can before they’re destroyed. The swarm has the following statistics:

Wildfire Swarm (Tiny Elemental): HD 4; AC 14 [+1]; ATK Swarm (1d4 fire); MV 30 feet; SV 15; INT Low; AL N; NA 1; XP/CL 1,200/6; SP-Immunity (fire), vulnerable to cold.

The swarm moves and attacks as a single creature. It covers a 10′ x 10′ area, with all creatures in that area suffering an attack from the creature, and all inflammable items in the area forced to make an item saving throw or catch fire.

The Animorph, an Animal for All Seasons

How the time does fly, and the world robbed of my nonsense for a couple weeks while I prepared nonsense of another sort.

Here’s a quick rundown – finished editing the B&T Monster book – yay! – so I should get it up for sale soon. Just need to work in the changes, fix some images, etc. This could be a rough week for my mom, so I have no idea how much RPG work I can get done, but the last weekend was productive, so we’ll see. I’m also about half-way there on NOD 30. I’ve been so into writing rulebooks the last few months I’m really missing writing the fun stuff.

In the meantime, here’s a little half-baked idea for gaming fun …

The Animorph

The animorph can change into an animal.

Skills
Animorphs are skilled at handling animals and riding (which they can do with no riding equipment at no penalty).

Abilities
An animorph can shift shape once per day per level (and shifting shape means from one form to another, but not back – that counts as a different shift), can only take the form of natural animals, and cannot take an animal form with more Hit Dice than they have levels. While in animal form they retain their own mentality (though not the ability to speak) and current hit points, but make attacks as though they were that animal (i.e. as a monster, with no bonuses for Strength or Dexterity, multiple attacks if the animal has them, special abilities if the animal has them, etc.) rather than as a character.

Animorphs gain an additional +1 bonus to save vs. polymorph and other transformations. They are immune to lycanthropy.

3rd level animorphs can speak to animals (non-magically). 6th level animorphs can also take the shape of giant insects, provided they do not normally have greater than animal intelligence.

Animorphs can deal damage to monsters only hit by silver or magic weapons if they have more levels than the monster has Hit Dice.

At 9th level, animorphs begin attracting animal friends. At each level from 9th to 12th level, an animorph attracts a number of HD of animals equal to their level (thus 9 HD of animals at 9th level, another 10 HD of animals at 10th level, etc.) These animals serve faithfully, but if killed are not replaced. The animorph can add these animals all at once, or over time, and they can only add animals native to the environment in which they currently reside.
Animorphs are wanderers – they cannot construct a stronghold of their own, though they can reside for up to a month at the stronghold of an ally, or in a village (but never a town or city).

Other Info:

RQ Wisdom 13+, Cha 11+
HD d6 (+2 hp per level after 10th)
W/A Can use light weapons, can wear up to leather armor (but must remove it to take animal shape)
ATK As druid
SV As druid
XP As fighter

Edit: Added a bit about hit points and such – nothing major